November 21, 2018

Israel à la Tarte Tatin

Restaurants have souls.

It comes across as much in the food as in the feeling you get from being there. You don’t find it out from the advertising. Otherwise every time you ate in an Applebee’s you’d feel comfy and at home, instead of bored and dissatisfied. You don’t discover it in the marketing. Otherwise every time you ate in a Burger King you’d feel edgy and cool, not gross and sad.

And it doesn’t even come across just from the food. Plenty of places with great food leave you cold. Meanwhile, a place with a warm soul like my late, lamented Benice in Venice, may never get a Michelin star, but leave their diners feeling warm and satisfied.

And that explains why a visit to the small and very French Tarte Tatin Bakery & Café on Olympic Boulevard near Doheny Drive makes you feel like you’re at home … in Tel Aviv. The pastries at Tarte Tatin — pains au chocolat, croissants and, of course, tartes tatin — look and taste like something in the window of a Paris patisserie. They are stacked up behind the counter of the tiny all-white space, and they are deceiving. Because as good as they are, as French as they are, as close to the Patricia Wells-ian ideal as they are — the soul of Tarte Tatin is Israeli.

Chef and owner Kobi Tobiano is an Israeli of Algerian heritage. His little gem of a cafe is the kind of place you’ll find tucked into a side street off Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard. It has no pretensions. The service can be spotty, sometimes rushed, always familiar. The food aspires, and reaches, an international standard. It is small, it hits way above its weight, and it is full of surprises — just like Israel.

The biggest surprise of all: You’ll find the best Israeli breakfast in Los Angeles at Tarte Tatin.

In that imaginary café off Rothschild, breakfast would mean a selection of craft breads, thick leben cheese doused in olive oil, some feta, olives, chopped tomato and cucumber salad with za’atar, maybe a bite of homemade hummus and a couple of eggs. Order the Israeli breakfast at Tarte Tatin ($16) and that’s what you get, along with dark, hot coffee. It’s all laid out in neat white ceramic dishes, and every bite recalls Tel Aviv. Ask for Tobiano’s smoky hot harissa, as well as for a glass of limonana — lemonade with mint.  

The other surprise is the Tunisian Tuna Sandwich ($11.95), which has become my favorite tuna sandwich in the city. Tucked into a soft, homemade French roll you get olive-oil-packed tuna, slices of potato, a shmear of that harissa, olives, hard-boiled egg, pickles and slices of preserved lemon.

Where do the excellent olives and leben in this Israeli-French café come from?  Tobiano’s Lebanese supplier, of course.  An Israeli chef of Algerian heritage running a French cafe in Beverly Hills using ingredients from Lebanon to make the best Israeli breakfast in all of Los Angeles — of course.  

Tobiano trained professionally as a pastry chef and served as one at Charles Nob Hill in San Francisco. He arrived in Los Angeles and worked as a private chef. Tarte Tatin is his dream-come-true place of his own, and as hard as he works — constantly, ceaselessly — and as much as he bemoans his lack of rest, you can tell he has created a place that exactly reflects the food of his heritage, the foods of his home, the foods he loves. That’s what makes Tarte Tatin special. That’s what gives it its soul.

Tarte Tatin Bakery & Café, 9123 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 550-0011. NOTE: Tarte Tatin is not certified kosher. But it is certified a Foodaism favorite.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal.